I finally found an online copy of the Frank Miller speech in which he debunks the legend of Dr. Wertham and the Senate compelling the comics industry to censor itself.
Misconceptions. Here’s a whopper. One that has cost us dearly. The dreaded 1950s. Fredric Wertham. The outside world. It seems a week doesn’t go by where I don’t sit down with my Comics Buyer’s Guide and read about somebody, somewhere, fretting about the almighty outside world and how it is bound to notice our adventures are getting more adventurous. Nobody’s come after us in any big way, but there’s a little bit of the stink of censorship in the air, isn’t there? There’s all this noise about Janet Reno and Paul Simon and Beavis & Butt-Head, isn’t there? And we all know what happened last time, don’t we? In the fifties, with Frederic Wertham and the Senate hearings. They shut us down, didn’t they?
The outside world went and noticed us. The United States Senate held hearings and decided comic books caused juvenile delinquency, right? So we had to institute the Comics Code, right? Our backs were against the wall, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong. They didn’t. The Senate vindicated us. Frederic Wertham failed.
This is how screwy our sense of our own history is. Most people in comics don’t realize that the Senate vindicated us. After due consideration, the United States Senate decided comic books were not a cause of juvenile delinquency. We were vindicated.
Why, then, the Comics Code? Abject cowardice, maybe? Maybe, partly, but not entirely.
We were vindicated. Why did the comics industry go and adopt a code of self-censorship far stricter than any in entertainment? Why would a healthy, vital industry selling comics by the truckload — hell, by the trainload — and castrate itself? Why?
The answer may just make you all a little sick to your stomachs. You see, comics publishers in the 1950s had a problem. This problem had a name. Its name was William Gaines.
William M. Gaines was the rarest of creatures, a brilliant publisher. His EC Comics outsold everybody else’s comics by a long shot because they were better than anybody else’s comics. By a long shot. The other publishers couldn’t compete with him. Not fairly, anyway. So they used the free-floating fear of the time to shut him down. If you read the Comics Code — and I have — you’ll see that it was written with no purpose more noble than driving EC Comics out of business. That was its purpose, and it succeeded at it [waving a copy of Americana in Four Colors, a booklet published by the Comics Code].
I can back this up. I’ve got a copy of the Comics Code right here [ripping the cover off the booklet].
Excuse me, but I’m having some trouble opening it. Here are a couple of examples of the Comics Code. General Standards, Part A, Paragraph 11: “The letters of the word ‘crime’ should never be greater appreciably in dimension than other words contained on a cover. The word ‘crime’ should never appear alone on a cover.” See ya, Johnny Craig [ripping pages from the booklet, throwing them away].
And here is General Standards, Part B, Paragraph A: “No comic magazine shall use the word ‘horror’ or ‘terror’ in its title.”
A noble effort, folks.
That’s why we had that damn stupid Comics Code for all these years. Not to protect children. Not to satisfy the United States Senate. Not to mollify Frederic Wertham. We were stuck with the Comics Code for all those dumb decades because a pack of lousy comics publishers in the ’50s wanted to shut down Bill Gaines.
Misconceptions. That one continues to haunt us. Because of something that never happened, our industry cringes like a battered child every time there’s a hint of a threat from the outside world. Every few years, the fear talk starts again. Every few years, the producers of stories about heroes who never give up start whimpering that we should fold up our tents and surrender to an enemy who hasn’t even shown up.
You may want to follow the link and check out the rest of the speech, which is about Jack Kirby and filled with the kind of fulsome praise the King deserved.